It’s no secret I’m not a fan of big-name franchises. The idea of an agent having a shopfront, renting space, providing desks, running staff and controlling administration while still paying franchise fees seems counterproductive to me.
I believe in giving more control, responsibility and commission to the individual agent, in exchange for providing them with the necessary support to actually help them grow their own business and brand.
Of course, this is all a theoretical debate unless you can provide real-life case studies of agents who are adopting this new way of doing business.
Here are just a couple of examples of agents taking on the challenge and coming out ahead.
Agent: Thomas Coussens
Agency: UrbanX (Brisbane, Queensland)
Thomas’ 16-year career in real estate has run the gamut of business types, from boutique to mainstream franchise.
After moving on from a high-pressure role as a Melbourne-based chef, Thomas found himself joining an independent Brisbane real estate agency in 2008.
“After that, I went off and started my own independent that eventually branched into two offices. Then we consolidated to one office and franchised under LJ Hooker.”
Unfortunately, becoming part of LJH fell short of expectations for Thomas.
“Within a franchise group there’s a lot of promises around support, training and infrastructure, but as soon as I signed the franchise agreement, that was over,” he said.
“In fact, the person who sold us on going to LJ Hooker and signing the agreement, then went on to take up the exact same role at Ray White and tried to sell us on that. So, one was ‘the greatest thing in the world’, and then suddenly the next one was ‘the greatest thing in the world’.
“What I really didn’t like was that I was paying a lot of money for very little to no actual support or training.”
In Thomas’ opinion, the big brands were vastly overvaluing their contribution to his business. In fact, being networked into a franchise ended up negatively affecting his agency.
“There was an agent in Melbourne who owned three franchised offices and he was stealing from the trust account. That made massive news and that impacted our business.
“I’m sure there were a lot of LJ Hooker agents doing incredibly good things, but that doesn’t make the news — that only happens when someone is stealing from the trust account. Everyone then tarred us all with the same brush — in fact, I lost clients over that.”
Twelve months after signing on with LJH, he was disenchanted and sold out to his business partner.
“I was contemplating whether to stay in real estate after that — it had been a bit of a traumatic experience.”
But Thomas did return, taking on work for an agent mate before moving over to the UrbanX model.
“When you start with UrbanX, you’re starting with a commission split of 70 per cent, which is industry-leading already.”
He said under the old structure, it was tough running an office and covering costs like staff, resources, office space and administrative support.
“So, I pay them (UrbanX) 30 per cent of what I earn for all those things to be in existence. If I’m not selling houses, I don’t owe them any money.”
Thomas also said new technology meant he can run his business from anywhere and at any time, which gave him flexibility around work/life integration.
“I’m inside an office for about an hour a week maximum.”
Thomas said it’s been a great eight months with the platform.
“It’s the best. If I wasn’t under this structure, then I wouldn’t continue to work in this industry.
“I’ve never run a business as effective as I am now — and I’ve been an agent since 2008.”
Agent: Fiona Greene
Agency: Luv & Co (Ashgrove, Queensland)
Fiona Greene has been in, out and back in again with the Urban family since starting her career in 2009.
She is a qualified solicitor with a background in negotiation, and the move to becoming a selling agent allowed a transfer of her skills into a new field.
She began her career at Place Real Estate and felt it gave her an excellent grounding, but she hit a wall in advancement.
“I was positioned in their top 10 (agents) in my first two years — I was writing more than the principal in my second year,” Fiona said.
“I felt I had learnt a lot from the particular principal I was under, but I needed a change because I realised people weren’t listing with me because I’m from Place; people listed with me because I’m me.”
Fiona also felt that print advertising and auctions had become a focus in the agency, and these weren’t always the best choices for selling her clients’ homes.
“A lot of stuff I was selling was investment properties and mum-and-dad stuff.”
Fiona left Place to join Urban Real Estate for five years before starting her own operation — Luv & Co based out of Ashgrove.
While she began life as a single career professional a decade ago, Fiona is now a mum of three, with another on the way, and time has become precious.
“We will have four children under four… so I need less costs and to spend time with this baby.”
Fiona said running her own office prior to UrbanX saw her professional responsibilities run over at inopportune moments.
“I negotiated a sale while in the birthing suite with my son. I was sending off the contract and stuff. For my daughter, I was launching a property online that afternoon — I went into labour while at a networking meeting.
“It got to a point where I couldn’t do everything. I’m doing the BAS, the invoicing, paying invoices, managing the rent roll and trying to sell a few properties a month.”
Fiona said she couldn’t afford to do all the business admin and concentrate on sales — something had to give.
“The UrbanX trade-off is that I don’t need to be paying for those (admin) expenses when I’m not using the services, but the services are there for me to use when I need them.”
By having someone else take care of the admin, Fiona can concentrate on other parts of her business.
“All I need to do is get the listing and the sale… that’s the end of my involvement.
“With the kids, I’m with them until lunchtime, and then from lunchtime on I’m doing face-to-face appointments and things.”
She said it’s also freed up her evenings as business admin used to get left to the end of the day after the kids had gone to bed.
“Under the UrbanX platform, we’re the client — the agent. We have more autonomy and more control over what our brand looks like.”
This style of agent-first business is striking a chord with the entrepreneurial, go-getting nature of high-performing professionals, and we can only see growth from here on out.
By Dan Argent, UrbanX CEO